Rosalia Thrills Hometown Crowd, Halsey Brings the Hits at Primavera Sound Barcelona

Spain’s Primavera Sound may be the ultimate FOMO-fest. The 22-year-old music extravaganza kicked off Europe’s festival season with its four-night bow in Barcelona this past weekend. Featuring multiple headliners – Blur, Halsey, Kendrick Lamar, Depeche Mode, New Order, Calvin Harris and Rosalia — on side-by-side interchanging stages, some 70,000 revelers attended daily, taking in the grounds of the city’s Parc del Forum and its myriad entertainment, activity and food options (including a full Primavera Pro conference track for industry attendees).

While at a map’s glance, it seemed as if acts on the smaller stages would drown each other out, the organizers choreographed the schedule so expertly that any conflicts didn’t feel insurmountable. It also helped that there were 317 acts to choose from, spread out over 10 stages and as many acres lining the city’s port. According to the fest, 193,000 attended Primavera’s three main days, with the largest crowd gathering for the final night where the main draw was Spain’s own Rosalia — evident from the scores of fans wearing red and black, the colors of her latest project, “Motomami .”

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Kendrick Lamar (Photo: Tal Friedlander)

Kendrick Lamar (Photo: Tal Friedlander)

In fact, the female performers – like St. Vincent, Pink Pantheress, Caroline Polachek, Arlo Parks, Maggie Rogers, Holly Humberstone and the girl-fronted Alvvays and Wednesday – really dominated the festival’s lineup and provided some of the most spectacular, standout sets. Chief among them: Halsey, who delivered smash after smash with ferocity, starting with balls-to-the-wall “Nightmare” and ending 15 songs later with the equally bombastic “I Am Not a Woman, I’m a God.” The singer, who uses she and their pronouns, announced midway through that she was working out a new set – self-dubbed “Halsey’s greatest hits” – and had added songs like “Closer,” her collaboration with the Chainsmokers, and “Eastside, ” a record with Benny Blanco and Khalid, which she had shunned in the past.

As Halsey told the crowd – before declaring “I fucking love my job!” – there was a time when she thought to herself, “Fuck that shit, I’m not playing ‘Closer.’ Fuck that shit, I’m not playing ‘Eastside.’ And then, with more time and more maturity, and as I started growing older, I started looking at these songs as: what’s an amazing thing, to have all of these records. You’re being a spoiled little fucking bitch that you’ve got all these amazing songs you don’t wanna fucking play! Get over yourself!”

With that, Halsey turned the guitars up to 11 with a rock version of “Closer,” a prelude to the heavier side of her repertoire which would highlight the end of the set. Of course, the pop songs always go down easy, and Halsey, with that instantly-recognizable, smooth tone to her vocals, spoon-fed hits like “Bad at Love” and “You Should Be Sad” to satisfy the thousands of fellow sadsacks in the crowd.

Blur's Damon Albarn (Photo: Tal Friedlander)

Blur’s Damon Albarn (Photo: Tal Friedlander)

Indeed, the goth-leaning music lovers were out in force for headlining acts like New Order and Depeche Mode, which delivered a mix of new and old — with “World in My Eyes” performed in tribute to late keyboardist Andy Fletcher — and saving the fan favorites for last, with the one-two-three punch of “Just Can’t Get Enough,” “Never Let Me Down Again” and “Personal Jesus.”

Los Angeles-based artists also made a strong showing with Compton’s own Kendrick Lamar performing a scaled-down version of his “Steppers” tour motif and effortlessly gliding through 24 songs including “Humble,” “Swimming Pools (Drank)” and “Bitch Don ‘t Kill My Vibe.” The rapper also debuted a cover of the Weeknd’s “Sidewalks” and brought out his cousin Baby Keem for “Vent” and “Family Ties.”

Across the way at the Dice stage, punk evangelists Off! took home the trophy for longest set-list with the shortest running-time, preaching to the faithful with a sizzling set of 36 songs. On the other hand, at the Amazon Stage the War on Drugs, featuring LA transplant (by way of Philadelphia) Adam Granduciel, claimed the longest set with the fewest number of songs (eight) – which is to say, the band left its audience wanting more of that hypnotic Bruce Springsteen-meets-Fleetwood Mac groove.

Those playing the (relatively) smaller stages had no less of an impact. At the Cupra Stage, Pusha T energized an amphitheater crowd, while at the Plentitude stage, Pink Pantheress delighted an audience heavy on Brits with her brand of twitchy hyper-pop, then name-checked Linkin Park and New Order in reverence. Over at the Ron Brugal stage, Argentinian rapper Trueno also impressed with an energetic 1:45 am set of Latin-infused hip-hop.

Depeche Mode's David Gahan (Photo: Tal Friedlander)

Depeche Mode’s David Gahan (Photo: Tal Friedlander)

With so many artists scheduled to start after midnight – and some, like Blur and Rosalia, taking the stage at 2 am – Primavera Sound is very much a nighttime event, challenging the stamina of even the most loyal of music fans. Thankfully, the weather cooperated and there were a few delays related to the penultimate sets like those of Friday headliner Fred Again and Saturday’s Calvin Harris dance party preceding a triumphant closing performance by Rosalia.

Being the rare international music festival held in the middle of a major city, Primavera is as much a celebration of Barcelona as it is a showcase of musical talent, which made Rosalia’s appearance all the more special considering she grew up not far from the venue. Indeed, she roared in with her well-practiced “Motomami”-themed set, complete with spot-on stage cues and striking visuals courtesy of her dancers and top-notch creative direction, stopping to talk to the audience – from the stage and down in the photo pit. At one point, he grabbed the video camera for a close-up, and mouthed, “It was worth it, eh? I missed you.”

Fred Again (Photo: Tal Friedlander)

Fred Again (Photo: Tal Friedlander)

The feeling was mutual, as the ballooning crowd returned the favor with syncopated handclaps and dance moves, then stood at attention for the set’s emotional climaxes highlighted by Rosalia’s commanding vocals — melodies that carried the essence of Catalan culture and could be heard beyond the grounds to the nearby streets, where hundreds had gathered for a peek, the fences were damned.

Speaking to Variety ahead of the festival, Primavera co-director Alfonso Lanza explained, “When we sell a ticket to the festival, we’re selling a ticket to the city.” To that end, the organizers also put on a free opening night concert, which featured the Pet Shop Boys this year, for residents of Barcelona. They’ll repeat the gesture in Madrid this coming weekend, which will host a similar bill as part of a mirrored Primavera Sound. Later this year, the Primavera will do a South American circuit in November and December, once more landing in São Paolo and Buenos Aires, and adding Bogotá and Asuncion.

“When you do a pre-sale without saying a word about the lineup and you start selling tickets, there’s something there,” added Lanza. “People are buying the brand.”

Perhaps Halsey put it best, when she took an onstage moment to acknowledge the Primavera flier. “New Orders; fucking Depeche Mode; fuck Blur! … I wanna get down there so bad. I want to be in that crowd with these people who love music and watch this thing that we all love together. I’ve still got time, right?”

(Photo: Christian Bertrand)

(Photo: Christian Bertrand)

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